D7UX – Initial Concepts & Direction

We are really excited to share with you our initial concepts for a D7. Please take a look at the video above and there are LOTS of sketches and paper prototypes that you can explore over on the Flickr group as well.

In this video you’ll see the three key aspects of the D7UX interaction model we are proposing:

  • the ‘header’ which will be displayed to users who are logged into the site, comprising of a ‘global’ header allowing access to all functionality (permissions allowing), and a customisable/role based set of buttons allowing fast access to the most frequently used tasks (eg. add/edit) or views (eg. find content).the example shown in the video would be for a ‘content creator’ type role. We haven’t completely thought through the application of this header down to the level of ‘site member’ (eg. someone who adds discussions to the forum on the site you’ve built using Drupal), but we think as a concept it has legs.
  • the ‘overlay window’, the example of which shown is ‘add content’ (in a very sketchy and unfinished state, I hasten to add!). We see the overlay as a fantastic way to provide a clean interface for these tasks whilst keeping the user in the context of the site for which they are performing those tasks, rather than taking them away into an ‘admin section’. Obviously we would need to allow for users who are not using JavaScript (in which case they probably would have to go into more of an ‘admin section’).
  • the ‘in line editing’ which will allow you to ‘switch on’ edit mode and edit content in place (wouldn’t that be lovely!). Of course, not all content would be editable on the page so the edit view would also allow for a range of ‘editors’ to be launched into an overlay window. We’re imagining: block editors, content type editors, navigation editors, views editors as a start (some of these terms will probably only make sense to Drupallers – apologies for that, will try to translate in future versions)

In the video we also show another idea that we are quite excited about, although we have a long way to go before it is entirely thought through … we’re not entirely sure that it will work, but the problems we are facing with it seem to be getting easier not more difficult, which is a good sign… You could think of this as a Direct Manipulation Tool for Site and Page Structuring. It’s been inspired by some of the tools that we’ve used in the past to do Information Architecture work (hence the use of that word in the initial header that is currently being CrowdTested, yes, it will most likely change!).

The idea behind this tool is that we are able to make site building and page creation a much easier task for people who don’t know and don’t want to know the ins and outs of Drupal’s technical architecture. We’re really excited by the potential this has for achieving our objective of allowing users who are not developers to build complex sites using Drupal… would love to hear what you think of it, and stay tuned for much more work on this component.

We’re  looking forward to pushing some of this out for more Crowd Testing very soon. I’d really encourage you, if you’re concerned about what people will make of this, to get involved in the user research – go put it in front of people and find out for real what people do and what’s usable or not. I’ll post another set of materials and scripts for CrowdSourcedUsabilityTesting very soon!

Ok. So, there you have it.

We’ll just wait here, nervously and excited, whilst you have a look….  then, please, tell us how you like it so far!

73 thoughts on “D7UX – Initial Concepts & Direction”

  1. Hi there.

    I launched my new site colorfreak.com in Drupal, hoping that I could add photo galleries, forums, member’s areas, user blogs, polls, surverys and all sorts of cool things and build a whole site instead of just a blog.

    Sadly, I got frustrated very quickly with the theming framework (I wanted to modify my theme a little), how many thousands of modules I needed just to do some simple stuff (I actually find that PATHETIC), no proper working WYSWYG, extremely difficult to add images and media in an efficient manner, some needed modules being available only for Drupal 5, no easy way to properly administer comments like in WordPress, need for FTP or manual uploading when I want to install modules, no good commercial themes available…

    I think I could go on quite a bit. The point is, that even though I wanted a really cool Drupal site with tons of features, I felt I was forced to move to WordPress (which I did). No I’m pretty restricted in what I can do with my site, but at least I can do those things properly.

    To me it feels like Drupal can do 1000 things, but it sucks at all of them. I mean, the forums module, besides being extremely basic and worthless for a site that requires proper forums, have not been updates much in years. WordPress can (mostly) only blog, but at least it does it well. I have comments, trackbacks, an easy-to-use theming engine, I can easily add media to content, and so on.

    What really irritates me is that the super-geek-hardcore Drupal crowd refuses to accept that Drupal is broken and that it need fixing.

    On a positive note, I really like what you’re doing to Drupal and I hope that someday I can use it again. I’m looking forward to that day since I actually really need some of Drupal’s advanced features.

    I like the popup-inline thingies and I think they will speed up website management A LOT.

    The header thing is also a good idea and you could maybe have menu dropiing down from there for more stuff…

    Thank you for the work you’re doing and good luck.

    PS: Are there any plans for a Drupal 7 release?

  2. @Nikolai

    I can understand your frustration and – as a drupal (self-proclaimed) evangelist – I wish I could tell you that you are wrong, that all you wish to accomplish is just one click away…

    …but this is not the case.

    On the other hand, I believe your post isn’t always fair, in that you seem to refer to “drupal” (the framework) and to the “drupal user experience” interchangeably, while the two are very different things.

    So, when you say that “the super-geek-hardcore Drupal crowd refuses to accept that Drupal is broken”, I disagree with you. Drupal is probably the best, more flexible and elegantly designed CMS around. It can be improved – for sure – but it is in no way broken.

    What it is broken and in need of some love is the user experience, but this is another story, and the very existence of this space proves that the need has been recognised (at least by some) and work is being done.

    Comparing WordPress with Drupal is only partly fair. WP is an excellent piece of software too, with many functionalities in common with Drupal, but the two plays in two different categories: WP can blog. Drupal can blog ***too***, but it is not a blog-centric platform in any way.

    That said, WP offer a simple, very nice user experience and there is no reason for which the Drupal community should not look at it as a source of inspiration.

    Sure, there are some features which Drupal misses badly (like a native WYSIWYG editor with image handling) but since Drupal can do 1000 things (most of them very well, actually) making easier for a newcomer to do one of them cannot impair the possibility for the other 999 to be done effectively, or for an advanced user to do the very same one in a different way.

    Finally, I feel that is a mistake to perceive the D7UX team as doing something “to Drupal”… since drupal is “community plumbing”, the only way one can impact on it is by doing things “together with the Drupal community”. 🙂

    All the best, Mac.

    PS: D7 will be out when the number of critical issues will be zero. I suggest you search Dries’ blog (http://buytaert.net/) for more info about the release philosophy currently in use for Drupal lifecycle.

    1. I don’t understand how you can consider “drupal” (the framework) and the “drupal user experience” to be quintessentially different.

      To start with, although Drupal exposes an API it cannot accurately be defined as a ‘framework’. Drupal’s own website describes it as “a free software package that allows an individual or a community of users to easily publish, manage and organize a wide variety of content on a website.” That certainly doesn’t sound like the description of a framework to me, and by that definition I would contest that it IS broken.

      Even if there was a seperate framework and “drupal user experience” it wouldn’t matter since it is impossible to benefit from one without the other – to have no “user experience” is to have no users.

      Whilst I concede that there is much elegance in the code and structure of Drupal that, in and of itself, is not enough.

      As it stands Drupal is something of a “curate’s egg.” I’m sure you will try to convince me that “part’s of it are excellent”, but for me it remains inedible.

      1. Hi Dave,

        the risk of this exchange is to become too much about words and too little about the reality of things.

        However I tried to explain myself a bit more:

        I called drupal a “framework” because a lot of developers tend to develop the front-end AND the back-end of their system. [There is some excellent video linked from comments to this website showeing how developers created nice interfaces for site administrators (their clients)].

        It is very unlikely that a dev would deliver a project without a good reconfiguration of permissions, UI, menus, graphic etc… of the standard Drupal interface.

        Although I understand what you mean, I disagree from the statement: “Even if there was a seperate framework and “drupal user experience” it wouldn’t matter since it is impossible to benefit from one without the other – to have no “user experience” is to have no users.”

        If you look at drupal as a blogging platform (see WP) you are probably right, but if you look at it from the perspective of a framework, then the two things are definitively separated, because frameworks are conceived for developers to design webapps providing a nice UX to the final user, which is exactly what many devs around are doing with Drupal.

        Now, I am totally in favour of making Drupal more accessible to final user for the reasons I explained in other posts on this site… what I think it is wrong, is to approach the problem by evaluating Drupal overall value from the smoothness of it’s user experience.

        The real asset of Drupal is its architecture geared towards extensibility and modularity: a nice end-user-experience is something more. Very much welcome but not essential (see how other successful framworks are, for example!)

        Additionally, Drupal adoption is strongly on the rise: I think this is the most accurate data available to say that Drupal is anything but broken, and that the lack of a smooth UX de-motivates potential adopters far less than drupal flexibility motivates them! 🙂

        1. You have certainly given me something to think about. You have got a very interesting perspective of what Drupal is and I’d be interested to know whether other people share it.

          From my point of view a framework must be three things. It must be abstract, it must provide a well defined API and it must involve some form of inversion of control. A framework helps a developer write great software, but it provides no benefit to the end user in and of itself.

          I would agree with you that if you are developing a completely custom management back end for your users, so they don’t have to use any of Drupal’s built-in administration as a means of adding and editing content, managing menus, adding blocks, etc. then perhaps you are using Drupal as a framework, and in this case the Drupal UI experience is mostly irrelevant. I would probably see this as largely a waste of time since, IMO there are better, more productive frameworks out there, but that is perhaps a matter of personal taste.

          What I would have to question though, is whether that usage can be considered ‘the norm’. As I mentioned earlier, Drupal styles itself as “a free software package that allows an individual or a community of users to easily publish, manage and organize a wide variety of content on a website.” This, to me, strongly suggests that Drupal’s target audience is people who are looking for a content management system. Compare that with CodeIgniter’s description, “CodeIgniter is an open source Web Application Framework that helps you write kick-ass PHP programs.” It is clear from this statement that the target audience is developers, and that the framework provides no concrete solution to end users.

          The problem is that as an individual looking for an easy way to manage content on a website I would suggest that Drupal is infact broken. Your position is that it’s not broken I simply need to hire myself a developer to create a usable interface for me. That is simply not a tenable position. Either Drupal needs to stop promising that it “allows an individual or a community of users to easily publish, manage and organize…” and start calling itself a framework with a target audience of developers, or it needs fixing.

  3. I should agree with Nicolai (#51). There are tons of active bugs in issue queues for Drupal 6 right now. It’s not just about core. It is more about highly used contrib modules. I have 7 projects with Drupal, and have to maintain dozen of patches for all of them while patches are being stuck in issue queues with no progress at all from maintainers side.

    Yeah, I know this is less touching the current topic, but it’s a loud soul cry of most part Drupal-sites maintainers—bad contrib quality, not the core.

  4. @mac: “What I disliked was the tone of the post I commented on, not its content.”

    Please try and remember that large numbers of our community use English as a second language, so the tone you hear in your head is not always the tone that is intended 😛

    I happen to be bilingual in German – most German phrases when literally translated actually come across as commands in English — i.e. “You must do this”, rather than the wishy washy American “You should probably do this”.

    Just something to keep in mind.

    That being said, I actually agree with and have already raised the flag several times on UX for all of Drupal vs. UX for the default out of the box install profile.

    There are literally only a handful of people that have EVER worked on the core install profile and out of the box experience. If we don’t start working on it now, there is no way we will get to the level of polish needed.

    I’ll leave thinking on framework vs. out of the box experience as a dangling thought.

  5. Wanted to quickly follow up here with concerns about a move to heavy AJAX adoption within D7. Accessibility issues will get more complicated and any implementation needs to be based on Progressive Enhancement.

  6. I think Mark and Leisa need to get their hands dirty and build sites with Drupal. Sites such as digg clones, news feeds and all to really understand how Drupal works.

    Everything so far seems to be geared towards the content writer/editor/moderator experience rather than the site builder/developer experience.

    The admin menu is a nice addition and can help the site builder/developer. It would be great if the header/admin bar was also available to registered site users in a more simple form with shortcuts to content entry pages and it allowed site builders to add tips of the day or advertising messages.

    1. Well if you want a laugh there are a few videos of Leisa and Mark getting down and dirty with Drupal for the very first time. http://bit.ly/yn6OR

      Although it can be funny to watch them walking right into some of the pitfalls, these videos serve as a very good illustration of what is wrong with Drupal UI at the moment.

      One of the issues is that it is often difficult for “Drupal people” to see Drupal through the eyes of the uninitiated. When you approach Drupal as someone who knows a bit about online content publishing systems, and has maybe used one or two in the past, but knows nothing about Drupal, or how Drupal works (and how it expects you to work) the result is often frustration and simply not knowing where to go next.

      I think some of the stuff in what Leisa and Mark call “Information Architecture” probably incorporates the site building ‘stuff’ that you’re looking for. IA is a pretty bad name for it though. But then as a Drupal user you should be used to being faced with oblique names for straightforward concepts 😉

    2. If you are a builder/developer and you evaluate Drupal as a possible System for your Site, than you’re certainly fine with all these abstract Ideas and bulky clickpaths Drupal has.

      But if you’re a writer/editor/moderator then Drupal current UX will most certainly let you choose another System like WordPress. And it’s those Classes of users, who would benefit most from an improved UX.

    3. Everything so far seems to be geared towards the content writer/editor/moderator experience rather than the site builder/developer experience.

      Speaking as a site builder, the writer/editor/moderator experience is what matters to me: They are my users.

      If the UX is optimised for me, it’s a bit like cars being built to suit engineers instead of drivers.

    4. I do have to somewhat agree with this. From what I’ve seen in the past few years, the best Drupal sites are not blogs and forums – they’re major content sites. I’m thinking here about the Chicago Art site, HarvardScience, everything from Dev. Seed, etc.

      Having said that, there’s a reason why people choose WordPress to run their blogs. Sure, Drupal can do all sorts of neat things, but if you just want a blog, WP is an absolute joy to look at and use. I think with some of the proposed improvements in ux and with a concerted sales effort, Drupal could take over the blog market too.

      As for the rest of the thread:

      Major Yay for on-screen content editing. Being able to read a piece of content and edit it on the same screen (maybe via wordpress-like lightbox popup) would be grand. Note, this is on-screen editing, not in-line. I too suspect that in-line editing might well be dangerous.

      Having a customizable Header bar would be exceptional. If you could create bars that would be even better. I could create an editor bar for editors, an admin bar for admins, etc…

      1. ‘If you could create bars that would be even better. I could create an editor bar for editors, an admin bar for admins, etc…’

        That sounds like a great idea – a function where the admin can ‘build’ the toolbar for specific roles – this could also grant privileges at the same time.

  7. My impressions:

    I’m not sure where the “header” lives. Is it pinned to the top of the window, like admin_menu is pinned to the side? Not injected into the theme? If so, I like it; if not, I think it’s probably a dead loss, because it won’t integrate into an awful lot of themes. (One of the first things I do with a theme when I’m hacking it is turn the tabs into buttons so they don’t look so bloody confusing when they line-wrap.)

    W.r.t. “overlays”: There’s a common prejudice in UX circles against modal dialogs. I’ve never understood it. They seem fine to me for some things, and what I see here seems like that kind of thing. But chx (I think) has a point that they’re not really suited for everything that happens in the system. It’s a web app, not a desktop app, and we’re accustomed to interacting with it in a different way. Keep the modal stuff relevant to the page it’s on top of.

    W.r.t. inline editing: Two years ago I tried out a module that added inline editing to Drupal 4.x. Or was I smoking crack and imagining it? It seemed to work reasonably well, but it wasn’t going to work for our users for some stability reasons, if I recall.

    I totally get why inline editing wouldn’t work if done simplistically, but Tao Starbow’s idea of combining inline with overlays could address that quite nicely, and it seems to me I’ve heard other people talking about similar ideas.

    As someone who has to train end users to maintain the site and add content to it, I can tell you that the more “inline” I make it — and the more I stress the ways that it approximates being “inline” — the easier it is for people to understand how to use it.

    W.r.t. the “DMT”: I would love to see something simple in this regard. Drupal just doesn’t really have any good options for global information architecture or variant page layout right now. My apologies to MerlinOfChaos — I know Panels is a hugely complex endeavor and there are some things that Panels 2 does that are impressive and clearly intensely useful (like taking arguments for panels as parts of the URL). But that complexity works against it, and I just don’t see that improving (in fact, see the situation degrading ) in Panels 3.

    I actually think something really mundane is liable to bite any page layout component, and that’s stylesheets. One of the big problems I have with Panels is in trying to realize designers’ designs as Panels layouts. I find that there are so many nested containers that I have to baseline reset everythng to zero and build up from there to get the positioning I need. I don’t believe that drag and drop will ever work for realizing designs made by others (which, let’s face it, is what most web geeks in agency settings, like me, have to do) — i just don’t believe it, my experience is so strongly to the contrary on that matter. I will always have to be able to stipulate the position, padding, margins, borders, etc. in the stylesheet, and that’s non-trivially difficult right now.

  8. Just some rash opinions – I haven’t read all the comments in this thread and have only just caught wind of this project.

    Header: To me, this is a customisable, credentials-sensitive toolbar similar to that found in MS Word. +1 from me – it’s a creative’s palette.

    Overlay window: Rather than ‘float’ something over the web page, why not lead the editor to a form with a facsimile of the current page slung underneath? This would avoid the layering (and the javascript) and preserve the user’s access to the ‘real’ page thus enabling quick review (and there’s nothing wrong with scrolling).

    Inline editing: Whenever I’ve encountered customers using Plone 3, they have all switched this feature off – they feel it’s too dangerous – too easy to accidentally make changes (even if it’s not). They never take issue with switching the application into ‘edit mode’.

    Love the videos by the way, makes the whole venture very engaging.

  9. does that mean you are able to change css and templates like resizing content’s size directly without going to codes? cool!

  10. Hi Everybody,

    Respect for all the energy who is floating here :-),
    I discover Drupal recently, and there is one thing I pray to see in the next version, we speak here about the way to modify more efficiently our content, more efficently how to admin our admin panel but If I read cleary, we forgot something essential.
    With the constant upgrade of Drupal we constantly also generate for the non-developper a real stress, am I going to loose my beautifull website with this new upgrade ? When you seen the number of posts on that subject you realise that this process is a real pain in the…
    I mad a dream… 🙂 of a plug in or a functunality who could automaticlly do all that heavy stuff for you, just click… “Yes I want to sleep in that seven heaven too” (a little bit like they do that for the last WP version)

    I hope you will excuse my intrusion and my pore english
    God bless you all guys 🙂

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